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Wind energy: Boom and challenges lie ahead

Wind energy: Boom and challenges lie ahead

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Energy powered by massive windmills seems like a nice way to diversify power sources, but there are significant logistical hurdles---especially in Europe. Nevertheless, wind energy capacity is expected to explode in the decades ahead.

Energy powered by massive windmills seems like a nice way to diversify power sources, but there are significant logistical hurdles---especially in Europe. Nevertheless, wind energy capacity is expected to explode in the decades ahead.

The Wall Street Journal chronicled Europe's big bet on wind turbines powered by companies like General Electric and others. The problem: There's no room to put these windmills on land. As a result, project managers are planning to put windmills at sea. However, there's another big issue. The equipment doesn't exist to operate these windmills in rough waters.

It's an interesting conundrum. Stringent requirements are pushing countries like the United Kingdom to bet big on wind, but there will be multiple loose ends to tie up. The European Wind Energy Association is betting these short-term hiccups won't become long-term headaches. According to the EWEA, wind energy will meet half of the EU's electricity demand in 2050.

The Journal, however, cites costs, design flaws and other items as key hurdles for some of the U.K. wind farm buildouts in the sea.

The American Wind Energy Association also projects heady wind growth. In 2009, the U.S. wind energy installed 10,000 MW of wind power, the largest in U.S. history. That powers 2.4 million homes.

In the U.S. there's a different wind calculus---more land is available---but offshore plans are growing and that means some of those U.K. hurdles may appear.

Simply put, no one is quite sure where this wind boom is heading or how potential hurdles will be handled. Bank of America Merrill Lynch via Reuters is already predicting a few rough patches. It appears unlikely that U.S. legislators will require stringent renewable energy requirements and that may pub the kibosh on wind energy. According to Merrill Lynch analysts, the wind energy market is likely to pause in 2010 and 2011 and then pick up again in 2012.

What's your take on wind energy's prospects?

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure